As us Timberwolf lifers know, the Pups have not had an auspicious list of wing players in its history.
In fact....quite literally....the best 'wing' player the Wolves have ever fielded was actually Kevin Garnett, in those teenage years of his when 'Sota would field it's super tall lineups with KG at the 3. In just his third year in the league, Garnett was averaging 18 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, and posting a PER of 20 and WS/48 of .143 (remember, league averages are 15 and .100) That's better than anyone else who's ever put on a Wolves uni to play the 2 or 3...better than Wally, better than Spree, better than Ricky Davis or Anthony Peeler or Isaiah Rider...anyone. And KG's best season (.272 WS/48, 29.4 PER) is something no Wolf at any position has come even remotely close to.
So the Wolves' more recent pursuit of s high-end, high-profile wing player wasn't just about filling an immediate need, it was about fixing a historical trend. Throughout every moment of this franchise's existence, they have needed an awesome wing player to step onto the court in home colors.
'Sota's lack of awesome wings is actually a symptom of a bigger issue: a lack of awesome free agents in general. The Wolves have been the generic nice guy at the bar...where other guys teams go around picking up
girls free agents with hot passion weather, confidence money, and the promise of hanging out with the rich and famous playing with other awesome teammates, the Pups have just kind of hung out in the back, eyes down, trying to avoid talking about the insecurities of freezing cold winters and first round playoff exits.
But hey, you miss 100% of the chances you don't take. Being
single free agent-less is a reason for optimism, because
The Wolves have pursued three big-name wing players over the last few years, with quite a bit of intensity. Rudy Gay was strongly considering signing here before the Grizzlies upped the ante to keep him in Memphis. The Nic Batum thing became a summer soap opera worthy of syndicate television, complete with aggrandized namecalling and lovers scorned. And then the Wolves...seemingly in desperation....made a last-second signing at the end of the summer: Andrei Kirilenko.
And how has that worked out?
Player: Rudy Gay
Price: $15 mil/year (average since 2010)
Numbers: (average since 2010)
A lot of Hoopusters here were down on the possibility of signing Gay in 2010, and not entirely without good reason. He's very expensive for what he does (basically max money for a #2 option). He also still has lapses in focus and judgment that cause him to drift, and hold down what should be an excellent defensive player: as strong as his offense has been, Gay has been a net defensive liability for the Grizzlies over the last 2 and spare change years. Also, his PTSoP (Points over Par, an aggregate stat that reflects how many points a player earns...or costs...his team on a per-possession basis) is a fractional average since '10....and is actually negative so far this year (-0.7)
That said, he's still an above-average player. Not $15 million above, but better than average, to be sure. Further, Gay absolutely trumps anyone the Wolves have fielded at the 2 or 3 the past two years. Expensive? Yes. Overrated? Probably. But I think most of us, in retrospect, would probably have considered it worth it at this point.
Player: Nicolas Batum
Price: $11 mil (this season)
Numbers: (this season)
When Days of our Batums began, we established that $12mil/year was too much for 2011 Batum, but a steal for 2009 Batum.
Well, guess what. 2012 Batum is just as good as 2009 Batum.
His expanded role, coupled with the departure of Nate McMillan's overly-exacting offensive system, has opened up Batum's game. He's averaging career highs across the board that are far more than just proportional to his extra 9 minutes of playing time. He's scoring 6 more points per game than last season, and his assists have more than doubled from his previous career high. And his PTSoP this year is at the same level as guys like Rajon Rondo and Kobe.
The +/- numbers are a bit harder to read here, because Batum plays 40 minutes a game and Portland's reserves are overall decidedly bad. That said, per100 possessions, Portland's offense functions better without Batum than it does with him this year. He's also only a net positive as a small forward....he's slight negative at shooting guard, and a massive negative in the very small time he's played power forward. Again, in terms of the Blazers' makeup, it's not that important, but for us....where we are severely lacking in paint players....that could have potentially been a big deal early this season.
Player: Andrei Kirilenko
Price: $10 mil (this season)
Numbers: (This season)
Not bad for the 'consolation prize'. Kirilenko doesn't pack the scoring punch of the other two in terms of sheer PPG, but his PTSoP and simple rating make it clear he actively contributes to the team's offense as a whole in a much bigger way. The Wolves are a full 14 points/100 possessions better when the Russian Rifle is on the floor versus off it (something we've seen with just the eyes test alone, as evidenced by the many comments about how our offense goes nowhere without Kirilenko) His PTSoP this year are third best among rotation regulars....only Kyle Lowry and Jason Kidd score higher....and his simple rating is the best any Wolf has posted since Kevin Garnett.
And for those of you worried about the sample size and historical trend, note that Kirilenko has actually played better than this for more than one season. His WS/48 and PER were higher from 2002-2005....the last time he had a role as broad and involved as the one he has now.
Oh, and he's the cheapest of the three options too.
The only downsides are that we could have had Rudy Gay for two years now, and would have been able to keep Batum for more years to come (Kirilenko is 31, Batum is 23)
But the bottom line is the Wolves paid the lowest price for the best player. We've talked a lot about how good of a 'do $*#&' player Dante Cunningham is, but if you really think about it, Kirilenko is even more so. He's scoring a ton of points on not very many shots (his points/shot attempts ratio over the last three games is literally 2-1), he rebounds and facilitates in a basically effortless manner, and he provides an intimidation factor at the rim that the Wolves have not had in a very, very long time. He's impacting the game at a LeBron/Durant/Howard level while basically having no scoring plays called for him. He's committing less than a single personal foul per 36 minutes.
And as bonus, he's going to be a perfect complimentary player...a perfect glue guy...to take the court between Love and Rubio.
So even though Kirilenko wasn't the first option, he is far and away the best one.